I was standing in the back of the Palladium, all jazzed up, when I realized something. Almost this ENTIRE SHOW was on hard drive!
Let me paint a picture. Although we could get a spot in the parking lot no problem, the hall was pretty full. People were lining up to pay for balloon hats. Maybe that was the first indicator, that this evening was not about music, but having a good time.
It was an interesting amalgamation of people. Gays, straights, thin, fat, not extremely young, but only a handful of baby boomers. It was Friday night, and they were out to have a good time.
Which Mika provided.
One of the best shows I’ve ever seen, one of the best concerts ever, was David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. Employing strobe lights before they became de rigueur, Ziggy entered the stage in his spacesuit, Mick Ronson struck his guitar and we were MESMERIZED!
Mika’s show began with a presentation. The band members, dressed as normal folk, sat on a couch facing a big screen. Where a denizen of Mission Control spoke of losing an astronaut. The curtain rose, the "players" took their designated places and lumbering in from the back came a tall thin man in a spacesuit. MIKA!
It was a dramatic entrance. He took off his helmet, stripped off his suit, and he was standing there in his underwear! A bit of cheekiness goes a long way. But rather than start to sing, Mika left the stage as the music played. He returned in a sleek white suit. The energy was palpable. The audience had their cell phones raised, people were bopping up and down, a good time was being had by all.
And then, to follow up the opener, Mika played his most famous song, "Big Girl (You Are Beautiful)". He brought out corpulent dancers in day-glo outfits. It was a celebration. But something was curious. Mika was singing when he was not.
Didn’t matter if he held the mic up to his face. He was singing anyway! The backup vocals, they were pure and pristine! The keyboards played even though no one had his hands on any keys.
Oh, these moments were not always glaring and obvious. But when Mika spoke to the audience during "Blame It On The Girls", there was a consistent disco beat that was utterly perfect, done so well, with such power, that I don’t think Kenny Aronoff could have duplicated it live. The drummer was hitting stuff, but the cymbal barely moved, and no kick drum sounds like that live.
It was like listening to a record.
Mika would move his head away from the mic, but his vocal would remain perfect. But when he spoke, there was distortion, a distinct lack of clarity. That’s what live sounds like. Most of the time tonight, it was Memorex.
I’ve been to so many shows, and I’ve never heard sound like this. So perfect, it doesn’t sound like the record, it IS the record!
I’m not saying everybody’s mic was turned off, that no one was plugged in. But I don’t think Jeff Pevar could get that acoustic guitar sound live. And, who are all these Mikas doing the backup vocals if he’s singing the lead?
They were miming along to the hard drive. I never heard a single mistake. Even Jeff Beck admits he makes mistakes, hits a clam now and again. But not Mika! Not Mika’s band!
The vibe was good. Very English. Irreverent. Fun.
But how much fun is it going out to hear a record?
Then again, aren’t these the same people frequenting those clubs, those discos on Hollywood Boulevard where you bump bodies to studio creations? They don’t feature live bands. The audience doesn’t EXPECT LIVE!
So I’m not saying everybody at the show tonight should have had a bad time.
I’m just saying it resembled nothing I’ve ever experienced, nothing that turns me on about live music.
Live music, when done right, is life itself. Messy, with warts. You try to get it right, but no one’s life is perfection. You battle the mistakes.
There’s no ideal beauty. Even though actresses all plump their lips in pursuit of an elusive ideal. Hell, remake yourself until you lose your identity, like Jennifer Grey or Leeza Gibbons. What turns us on are your imperfections!
But I didn’t hear one imperfection tonight.
I walked out.
I just couldn’t take it.
It would be like taking off all your clothes, getting under the covers and finding a mannequin, or a porno magazine, when you expected a real person there.
I haven’t left a gig in the middle since 1969. And no, Don Henley, it was not in California. It was in Boston. Some weird iteration of Manfred Mann’s band. It was awful.
Mika wasn’t awful tonight. He just wasn’t really there. You could see him, but what you paid for, you didn’t get. Live music.
YouTube is riddled with clips of Britney dancing, not moving her lips while perfect singing is playing through the speakers. Janet Jackson and Madonna do the same thing.
They’re selling show. They’re selling a good time.
But I got into it for the music.
I really like Mika’s records. Did I expect the live show to sound just like them?
That would be like expecting "Live At Leeds" to sound like "Tommy".
Live is its own unique thing.
But tonight wasn’t unique. It was just like every other night, just like the recording. It WAS the recording!
So, first we’ve got CDs. Which sound so bad, they kill acoustic music, warm music, almost overnight. Hell, bass-laden hip-hop is one of the few genres that even SOUNDS GOOD on a CD.
Then we’ve got Milli Vanilli.
And then, after everybody complains, we’ve got live music for a minute on the VMAs, and then live music on television disappears.
You lip-synch the National Anthem. You don’t risk at the Super Bowl.
You’ve got to get it right. So people will be impressed. So they’ll overpay to see you in concert.
I saw better playing in Nashville in a bar than you see at most major shows. I felt it. Music isn’t dead, but the business is trying to kill it. You might think Ashlee Simpson doing a hoedown when the tape breaks on SNL is long in the past, but that mainstream game is not completely dead, unlike Ms. Simpson’s career.
Having tweeted what I said above from the Mika show before I left, Perez Hilton responded on Twitter thusly:
@Lefsetz You sure know a lot about bullshit – you’re full of it! Mika is amazing!!!! A true talent! Look at this audience – they are LOVING!
I guess that’s why Perez’s tour failed. He thought it was about the trappings, about everything but the music.
I don’t know what brought these people to the Palladium tonight. But I do know the future of the music business is authenticity. About being able to play. About being honest. And forthright.
Entertainment is one thing. Hell, is’t that what reality TV is, entertainment?
But music, when done right, is not evanescent. It’s the foremost, most formidable medium. It touches you like nothing other than another human being.
As that old seer said, we’ve got to get back to the garden.
Honestly, there are a ton of people who already have. They’ve given up on this faux show. If it’s not real, they’re not interested. And radio and SoundScan mean less than ever before. They’re not truly mainstream, they’re the sideshow.
I genuinely like Mika’s music. But, after tonight, I’m no longer a fan.
Stars might be interesting, but we revere true talent. In the music game that always meant you could sing and play. If you’re faking it on stage, why in hell should we believe?